Whether you live in the country and have acres to spare, or you live in a small apartment and have no earth to call your own, you and your family can greatly benefit from planning, creating and maintaining a garden. It's your opportunity to pass on your gardening wisdom to a new generation. Plus, gardening as a family provides a surprising number of benefits:
- Gardening brings families closer together
- Gardening improves academic and communication skills
- Gardening adds fresher, healthier food to the diet while protecting the environment
Planning a Garden
The garden planning process offers families an opportunity to discuss something other than homework and chores. Trips to the library encourage reading skills in children and pull the family together as everyone brings something to the kitchen table to consider. Math skills can be built as you discuss the space you have and the needs of the various plants chosen. Botany and science will come into play as you help your children learn about life cycles, companion planting, soil composition, health, and the difference between "good bugs" and "bad bugs." You can build your own window boxes and learn the safe use of basic hand tools.
Edible Plant Selection
Plants can be grown in the ground or in containers. If there are young children in the family, be sure to include edible plants that grow and reach maturity quickly, such as radishes, lettuce, spinach and sunflowers. Parents will be amazed at what their children will eat when they have planted it themselves. Potted perennial bushes, such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries will provide healthy, delicious crops year after year. You can plant whatever foods you enjoy eating, but be sure to include a few you've never tried, just for the experience of trying something new. Many foods that children normally dislike will be tasty and sweet enough, when grown at home, to change their minds.
Flower gardens can be very rewarding, especially for children, whose short attention spans require faster, more colorful results to stay interested. Theme gardens are another way to inspire your children. You can build a sunflower "fort" that gets bigger and bigger as the summer continues. You can build a Spaghetti Garden that includes tomatoes, basil, thyme and oregano. You can create an Alphabet Garden that has one plant for each letter in the alphabet - this one is a lot of fun to research!
Butterflies & Hummingbirds
Attracting butterflies and hummingbirds is another good way to get children interested in gardening. Most plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies are fragrant and colorful additions to a yard or window box. The squeals of delight from your children, when they see these beautiful creatures up close, are priceless.
Build a Bird House Together!
Indigenous birds are struggling to survive with so many imported varieties competing for habitat. You can help these native species, benefit the garden, and help your child develop a love of nature by building bird houses.
Bluebird houses are easy to make and will attract birds for generations. Other bird houses can be built to species specifics, easily found at the library and online. You and your children will be able to enjoy watching the courtship, nest-building, and young birdrearing from the comfort of your backyard window or porch once the bird houses are in place. Your garden will benefit as insects are eaten. Bird feeders are also fun and easy to make and will attract a surprising variety of birds to your home. Check out a field guide from your library or pick one up at a book store and see who can identify your new neighbors!
Cold-blooded Garden Guests
Not the normal first choice for the garden, many cold-blooded species will eat slugs and snails and other destructive pests. Frogs and lizards are good critters to attract to your yard. They also eat flies and mosquitoes and other pests. All they need is shelter, which is easily provided with a broken ceramic pot laid on its side or a homemade frog house which your children are sure to enjoy building.
Teaching Good Sense
Everyone hears complaints about the lack of common sense, but no one is born with it. Creating a family garden provides countless opportunities to teach skills of observation, analysis, and follow-through.
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Safety should always be Rule One when working with children. Use your gardening experiences as a way to introduce the safe use of tools, the importance of hand washing, and how to identify potentially dangerous insects.
Gardening is a wonderful way to bring families together in a day and age when we are all too fragmented and distracted. Working in the soil has a calming effect of children and adults alike. It brings us closer to the natural cycles that many of us have lost track of in our technological world. So, put on a sun hat and some sun screen, grab a shovel or a trowel. and start planting!
For a lot more great gardening tips, see our guide on 31 Ways to Make You an Organic Gardening Guru.